By Samantha Bennett
Just when we thought we were over our newspapers and turning our faces into the brisk wind of New Media to blog, learn HTML, Tweet or do whatever else is necessary to stay relevant and employed, the Newspaper Research Journal comes out with this: Print editions of newspapers reach more readers than Web sites.
In a recent study of 68 local news markets across the U.S., newspapers were found to reach more readers via print than via their online editions – which were found to reach only 15 percent of local Internet users.
In most markets, online readers preferred national news sites, like CNN.com or Yahoo! News, to their local Daily Bugle on their screens.
And don’t think it’s just the small papers, which have smaller budgets for technology and foofy online bells and whistles, not to mention fewer people to ring and blow them, that were snubbed by the neterati. In fact, many small papers’ Web sites are more successful in reaching online readers than the big metros’.
Could this mean that print may live on? Have the reports of print’s demise been premature? Or is it just that newspapers’ online incarnations aren’t actually all that slick, despite your editor’s insistence that you now shoot video even when you do a phoner?
Another study in the Newspaper Research Journal found that regardless of all the new equipment and talk in meetings, newspaper staffs don’t actually devote very much time to cross-platform – i.e., non-writing-based – materials for the Web. Most work performed for the online edition is the production (and reproduction several times over the course of a day, so the site always looks fresh) of breaking-news bulletins and updates thereto.
Most cross-platform stuff – video, podcasts, etc. – is produced by photographers and designated online staff rather than repurposed and cross-trained print reporters.
If you assume that print is dead and the only way forward is online, this looks stupid and backward. But as long as online journalism remains unprofitable (and producing all this flashy multimedia is expensive) and print actually reaches more readers, maybe the foot-dragging makes a perverse sort of sense.
Confused? Me, too. Just when you think you have this brave, evolving new world figured out and perfect your cocktail-party lecture, the road ahead just gets more obscure.
All I can offer at a time like this is the reassurance that what we do matters as long as we do it well – however and wherever we do it. Columnists are still the people who take a hard squint at the world and try to find some valuable insight to share with their fellow man, and this role isn’t any less important whether it’s getting ink on their hands, draining their laptop batteries or buzzing their iPhones.
And when the vile uncertainty of it all is getting on your last nerve, at least you know you’re not alone. We’re all floating in the same choppy sea, grasping for flotsam to climb on top of, choosing a direction to kick in. You yell “Marco!” and NSNC yells “Polo!”
It’s nice to have something you can rely on.